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Sierra College Foundation investing nearly 90K in natural history museum

Some students are excited, others irked
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The Sierra College Foundation is investing nearly $90,000 in the college?s Natural History Museum over the next three years. Biology professor Keely Carroll has been appointed as the museum?s first director. In her half-time position Carroll will work to make the museum self-sustaining, increase its educational opportunities for K-12 and Sierra College students and be the museum?s liaison to the community. Some faculty and members of the Sierra Foundation, the fundraising arm of Sierra College, say studies have found investing in the museum may be the only way to preserve it into the future and that it could serve to generate revenue for the community college. Some students say the museum is a powerful educational tool for the entire community and they are anticipating its growth, while others say in light of cuts throughout the college they don?t agree it?s the best use of the foundation?s resources. Carroll said in a study through the American Museum Association, funded by a grant, the association said Sierra College?s Natural History museum would probably have to close its doors in the future if a paid director wasn?t hired. She will focus on areas such as expanding the museum?s curriculum for the community, writing grants and working on exhibits. The museum is within the halls of Sewell Hall, the building that houses Sierra?s science courses. It contains everything from dinosaur fossils to full-mount Polar, Alaskan brown, Grizzly and Black Bears. Kindergarten through 12th-grade students often tour the facility, while professors integrate its exhibits into their lessons. ?I want this to be a gateway for people. I want it to be a draw for students to want to come,? Carroll said. It has been run by an all volunteer staff since 1978, but volunteers aren?t able to dedicate the time needed to help the museum thrive, Carroll said. Not having a paid director also disqualifies the museum from receiving many available grants, she added. Jim Ronka, a student at Sierra College and volunteer docent at the museum, previously earned advanced college degrees in aeronautical engineering. He decided later to go to back to school to learn about the natural sciences. He earned his associate?s degree in geology from Sierra College and is currently working on another associate?s degree in watershed ecology. He believes the museum is a good investment for the community and students because it serves to teach them the value of taking care of nature. ?I hope the museum can increasingly get that message across, even if it?s just one elementary student at a time, or even one college student at the time,? Ronka said. The first year the program will get an infusion of $50,000 from the Sierra Foundation, which does not operate out of Sierra College?s general budget. The second year it is scheduled to receive $25,000 and the third year $12,500. Other students say they are not as enthused with the investment being made in the museum. Navneet Kaur, 20, a sociology student at Sierra College, said she would rather the foundation focus on helping to provide classes for students. She said none of the classes she needs to transfer to a four-year university are offered during the summer. ?I think we can use this money for a better purpose,? Kaur said. ?I think it?s really cool, but because of all the education cuts, we could definitely have more classes.? Anatomy students studying in Sewell Hall Tuesday agreed with Kaur?s perspective. Conrad Busath, 29, a nursing major, said he?d rather see the money go toward funding professors? salaries, adding course sections and better equipment in the science labs. Danielle Engleson, 23, said she and Busath are some of several students that don?t have the lab they need offered at the Nevada County Campus, where they go. Engleson said she is displeased with the large amount of funding the foundation is donating to the museum. ?And they cut teachers? We don?t have lab at the Nevada County campus,? Engleson said. ?Funds to the Nevada County Campus. We have to come all the way down here.? Dick Hilton, a geology professor and chairman of the museum, said there are very few natural history museums at community colleges at all, especially of the caliber of Sierra?s. He said many of his students have told him they had more resources at Sierra College, particularly because of the museum, than when they transferred to a four-year university. Sonbol Aliabadi, executive director of the Sierra College Foundation, said the foundation will support three programs a year, for three years each, on a rotating basis. The funding schedule for each will be the same as for the museum. In the past the foundation provided the funds for installing Wi-Fi on campus and is creating a fund for students in emergencies. In the future, it is considering donating to the mechatronics and allied health programs. For students who have funding requests for the foundation, Aliabadi said addressing the student senate and board of trustees would be the best avenues. ?I think the best thing is it come up through the senate and come up through the board,? Aliabadi said. ?The information can work its way up.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.